Back to the Big City

So, last week I booked some tickets to the SCG for the Cats v Swans match in a couple of  Fridays time.

It’s a pretty big game now. One of those famed ‘8 point games’.

The Swannies are flying, and my Cats are starting to gather some momentum themselves. A win for either team could really kick-start their runs into the second half of the year.

Believe it or not, it’s actually going to be the first time I will have been back to the famous old cricket ground for a game of footy since a fateful night, way back when.

Of course I’ve been back to the ground itself since, a few days of Test cricket here and there, a Ponting century or two. But somewhat inexplicably, sixteen long years have passed since I last watched a game of footy there.

September 21, 1996 was that night.

The night where a certain T. Lockett found himself with the yellow Sherrin just outside 50, scores level and the siren having just sounded to end an epic Preliminary Final.

I was accompanied that night by a rabid Essendon fan; who also just happened to be my on again, off again, off again, on again childhood sweetheart.

We weren’t long out of high school, and had flown up to the big smoke for the weekend to take in the big game, and to sample the very adult and cosmopolitan surrounds of Sin City.

I had booked a room in a dive hotel smack bang on Darlinghurst Road, pretty much right next to a live sex show. Romantic, I know.

But it was close enough to the ground, and was right in the action. And more importantly, it was all I could afford after spending my entire life savings on airfares. (There was no Tiger, Virgin or Jetstar back then, and Qantas could charge pretty much whatever they wanted. Which of course they did).

If I do recall correctly, the old man had come to the party with free upgrades to business class, to try help make me look that little bit more appealing  in the eyes of my lady friend. Thanks Dad – it didn’t really help though, not after Plugger had done his thing.

I don’t remember that much about the trip to be honest. I do remember the game though.

I remember going toe to toe all night in a friendly but feisty verbal stoush with a Sydney supporter, who was actually a Collingwood supporter, sitting in front of us.

Truth be told I was probably secretly barracking Sydney myself too, but of course I couldn’t make that known at the time; with due consideration to the fact that I was sharing a bed with my sometimes-somewhat-unreasonable-when-it-came-to-Essendon lady friend.

(For those of you that read my previous piece involving Essendon supporters in my youth – and my opinions thereof – yes, yes, i know, the irony is not lost on me. And yes, I begrudgingly admit that I was indeed cheering loudly and vocally for Essendon in a final that night. What can I say?  A young man will do just about anything in his quest for sexual relatio…ummmm, true love. Anyways, as I said earlier, none of it mattered, not after Plugger had done his thing).

I do remember James Hird. Boy do I remember James Hird.

Watching him that night was magical – the way he read the play and seemed to appear wherever the ball ended up. The way he’d glide across that famous turf. I was just watching him for most of the night I recall, watching where he went, how he’d read the play; sometimes he seemed three, four, five moves ahead of everyone else.

The Dons were doing it pretty easy early on, but then the Bloods came back hard and after half time it was an arm wrestle.

And then it all came down to Plugger.

We were from Ballarat too, both me and my lady friend. Plugger Country.

Of course the great man was going to score, at least something. We both knew that even before he kicked it. I guess everyone in the ground knew that even before he kicked it. This was the great Tony Lockett, after all.

But still, when the ball sailed through for a point  to give the Swannies that game, I remember the tears.

Oh there were tears. So many tears.

Tears from the Essendon fans around us, having traveled so far, only to come so close. Tears from the Swannies fans, having finally made their first Grand Final since 1945.


Tears from my lady friend at what had just transpired before her disbelieving eyes. The perfect road trip, the perfect weekend away, so rudely stripped from her grasp at the very last second.

And, eventually, there were tears from me, as it soon dawned that…well let’s just say it soon dawned that the ramifications of that solitary behind were going to be felt far beyond the Brewongle Stand on that night.

I’m looking forward to going back to that grand old ground. I doubt we’ll end up in the Cross after the match this time around. And I’m fairly certain that whatever happens, there wont be any tears.

But, then again, you never really do know what’s gonna happen in the big city, do you?

About Tim McBain

A long tortured but now proud Geelong man. Product of the 70's. Likes late nights, country music, Test Cricket, red wine, Woody Allen films, airports and mushroom risotto. Lives in Melbourne.

Leave a Comment